Avenue Q

Wed 5th – Sat 15th February 2014

reviews

Josh Carl

at 10:35 on 6th Feb 2014

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There’s no denying the ingenuity of a musical featuring a cast half made up of puppets, a character called ‘Lucy the Slut’, and songs such as Everyone's a Little Bit Racist and The Internet is for Porn. Dubbed ‘the musical for people who don’t like musicals’, I was certainly qualified to put this claim to the test – luckily, it passed. The Festival Players’ highly polished production of the Sesame Street-style Avenue Q provided two hours of great comic performances and enjoyable songs from a likeable and talented cast.

It is over ten years since Avenue Q opened on Broadway, charming audiences with the incongruousness of its uplifting melodies and cute characters singing about the disappointment of life after graduating and how none of us are really special, not to mention racism, pornography and schadenfreude (“happiness at the misfortune of others – everybody does it!”). The plot follows Princeton, here played convincingly by Rory Boyd, a recent university graduate seeking his purpose in life and coming to terms with his high hopes for himself failing to materialise. He finds himself moving to Avenue Q, a run-down New York street where we are introduced to the very real problems each of its inhabitants (some human, some Monster) face. We come to know this eclectic group of characters well, and the show provides real heart-warming sincerity in places.

For a first night show by an amateur, albeit experienced, theatre group, the performance was almost flawless. As Princeton, Boyd carried the show and gave a witty, effortless performance. Avenue Q’s unique style of combining puppets with unmasked puppeteers and human characters takes a song or two to get used to, but the cast managed it excellently, working wonderfully as an ensemble and making the interactions between puppets and humans come across as natural. Evidently a great deal of work has gone into teaching the actors to manoeuvre the puppets into singing, dancing and gesticulating, and it pays off. Particularly enjoyable was the live orchestra, co-ordinated by Musical Director Joe Griffiths, who played to a very high standard.

Ultimately this show is great fun, and even if like me you aren’t particularly fond of the songs themselves, the enthusiasm of the cast is infectious. If you haven’t already experienced the bizarre but brilliant world of Avenue Q, I highly recommend a trip to Anglia Ruskin’s Mumford Theatre to see this production.

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Jenni Reid

at 13:27 on 6th Feb 2014

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To heap praise on Avenue Q in 2014 is to be somewhat late to the party; I have faced incredulous responses for not having seen it for so long now that I jumped at the chance to see the Festival Players’ take on the famously inappropriate comedy musical with a part human, part puppet cast. The catchy songs, crude humour and inventive storyline did not disappoint, but it was particularly nice to see it performed with such gusto on a small stage by an amateur theatre company. The show was all but glitch-free, with lighting and technical cues extremely sharp, the orchestra seemingly well rehearsed and not a stumble by the actors. Meanwhile the staging and choreography were notably polished; group numbers were not overly ambitious, but this worked to good effect, suiting the scale of the production.

The actors managed to seamlessly combine acting as themselves with acting through their puppets (special mention must go to the girl who played a puppet’s arm throughout the show, but still looked like she was having the time of her life.) The cast actually managed to create chemistry between the puppets, in particular James Hayward as the uptight Rod and his roommate Nicky (Alan Hay) who were truly empathetic - their duet ‘If You Were Gay’ was the point at which the show stepped up a notch and really began to absorb us in the lives of its characters. Warren Clark was a suitably hilarious Trekkie Monster, with a fantastic gruff tone and spot-on comic timing. Rory Boyd as Princeton made a convincing transition from wide-eyed, optimistic graduate (his lament, ‘What can you do with a BA in English?’ will be familiar to many of us…) to world-weary cynic. Actors in smaller roles also shone through, and I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Padley as ‘Mrs Thistletwat’ and Hamish Sympington and Rachel Jarmy as the ‘Bad Idea Bears’. American accents were well maintained throughout, and though the singing wasn’t quite professional standard, if the worst you can say about the cast is that they weren’t straight off the West End, it’s hardly a significant criticism.

The actors were so nice and homely looking that the ruder parts of the show were somewhat awkward at first – the swearing felt a little like hearing a mild-mannered relative suddenly spew profanities – but they pulled off the worst of it (noisy and extended puppet sex) with aplomb. One thing that remained somewhat jarring, however, was to have an exaggerated and stereotyped Asian impersonation by a white actress, the kind of performance that one had hoped had been left behind with Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Granted, Avenue Q is known for being un-PC, and in fairness the performance did elicit many laughs and was done fairly well, but it just felt a bit too far and could have done with a bit more self-awareness at the extra level of inappropriateness given the lack of an Asian actress.

Overall this was a highly commendable and watchable performance by a talented group. I must warn you that the songs are absurdly catchy, but if you don’t mind singing along to ‘the Internet is for Porn’ for the next few days then certainly give this version of Avenue Q a try for a fraction of what you’d pay to see it on the West End.

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